Western gateway to Bremenium
Bremenium shown within Northumberland
|OS grid reference|
Bremenium was an ancient Roman fort (castra) located at Rochester, Northumberland, England. The fort was one of the defensive structures built along Dere Street, a Roman road running from York to Corbridge and onwards to Melrose. Significantly the fort is a long way north of Hadrian's Wall.
The fort is 8 1⁄2 miles (14 km) north of Risingham (Roman name Habitancum), the previous fort on Dere Street. The name Bremenium means 'The Place of the Roaring Stream'. The site is in a strong position, occupying the end of a ridge with the ground falling away steeply to the north and west, and giving a clear view over the Rede Valley and beyond.
The fort is oblong in shape, and measures 485 feet (148 m) north to south and 445 feet (136 m) east to west, giving and area of just over 5 acres (20,000 m2). There was a gate in each of the four walls, which were of stone backed by a bank of earth. It appears that an early 1st-century fort with a turf rampart occupied the site, and that it was replaced by a stone fort during the time that Quintus Lollius Urbicus was Governor of Britain. He stayed there on his way north to build the Antonine Wall in 142 AD. The fort remained occupied even after the abandonment of the Antonine Wall in the early 160s.
The fort is unusual, in that it had 3rd-century artillery defences. The walls were thicker than most Roman forts and had stone platforms projecting 32 feet (9.8 m) back from the wall, on which were placed catapult-like machines for hurling missiles. These machines, a smaller version of the ballista, were known as 'onagri', and derived their power from the torsion of a hair rope. From the north walls, these machines could fire missiles at anyone advancing down Dere Street from the north.
In the 2nd century the garrison was the First Cohort of Lingones (part-mounted and 500 strong), and then the First Cohort of Dalmatians (infantry). In the 3rd century the garrison was the First Cohort of Vardulians (part-mounted and one thousand strong).
The fort is now part of the village green of Rochester, but there are still remains to see. The west wall is the best preserved and consists of a nine-feet-high bank with stone facing. The west gate is complete to the springing of the arch. However much of the stonework has been plundered over the years for local buildings.
Excavations were carried out in 1852 and 1855, but were poorly recorded. A small dig was also carried out in 1935. The excavations established that the interior of the fort was crowded with buildings, many with hypocausts.
- J. Collingwood Bruce, Roman Wall (1863), Harold Hill & Son, ISBN 0-900463-32-5
- Frank Graham, The Roman Wall, Comprehensive History and Guide (1979), Frank Graham, ISBN 0-85983-140-X
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